Monday, February 1, 2010

The Plain Truth About the 1st Year

A reader asked me the following questions and I realized that they are questions I have not addressed on my here are the questions, and here is the plain, unvarnished truth.

Can you tell me a little more about the first year? Or point me in the direction that I could find out? I've done some reading, but everything focuses on the unattached, single law student. Is there a lot of homework in addition to case readings? What is the writing / research class like?

In some ways the books the Paper Chase and 1L are good looks at what the competitiveness of law school and the lengths that law students go through to stay on top.  But they don't address the little things.

Homework?  What is homework like the first year?  In every class but LRW, homework is reading, reading, reading.....oh and more reading.  And the reading is more dense than anything that you have ever read before.  There are words you have no idea what they mean at all, or in the legal context they are put in.  They are words of art.  We use the word negligent in common everyday language, but negligent means something different in a legal read with a Black's Law Dictionary next to you, trying to interpret everything.  And then you obsess---did I get it right, I don't want to look like an idiot in class if called on.  You need to read, then read again, and if you have time, read one more time, at least until you start understanding what is important and what is not.  So for the basic classes you will read, and brief the cases so you can remember and are prepared for class the next day.

What is research/legal writing class like? [LRW].  This is a hard one to answer because this is solely dependent upon the school and then the instructor.  At Willamette, where I attend, I had a somewhat unconventional teacher.  We learned how to brief a case, and write a legal memo. She had written her own textbook, and we had to come prepared with exercises from her textbook.  In addition, in order to bond with the students in her class, she split us into groups.  Each week, one group would tape a video, or do a powerpoint based around a theme.  She had rubber chickens named Floyd and Marion.  And that year's theme was Floyd and Marion do reality tv........The week I had, Floyd and Marion were on Survivor!  This accomplished two things, I got to know my classmates, and it was a huge funny tension breaker!

So, other than that, we had a rough draft of the memo, and then we had the final.  Our class ended October 31st, a full 4 weeks before finals.  We did have teacher's assistants who were there to help us through every process.......the final memo felt like a tool of torture.  The second semester we focused only on writing an appellate brief.  This was hard work, though it was "closed universe" which means that we had only so many cases that we could use and we were told what they were.  However, at the end, we had to argue these briefs in a competition.  This was hard, and meant a lot more work than I anticipated.  I did not realize that the first night, some would advance, until you had final teams.  I made it to the finals.  But that meant Monday through Thursday nights.................................until 9 o'clock at night.  This was so tiring. Again, the semester ended 4 weeks earlier than my other classes.

I approached school differently from my single classmates.  There will be time between your classes.  Some used this for socializing....I did not.  I approached school as a job.  There at 7:30 am until 5 pm. I would go home, spend time with my sweetheart girl, put her to bed at 8:30 and read if I needed.  If I was not in class I was studying.  I took Friday evenings until Sunday afternoon off from studying......Spent a few hours on Sunday afternoon studying for the next day.  This worked really well for me.  I did well in the first year, ranking well in my class. 

I also came to a conclusion early on, that while A's would be good, a "C" would get me a degree just as well.  I was unwilling to sacrifice my relationship with my daughter in order to be in the top 10% of my class.  I sacrificed any social life, including dating, in order to focus on my priorities: my daughter, my schooling, my family.  Looking back, I would not change one single thing.

I don't know if I was detailed enough in my answers.....but I encourage you to write and ask more questions.  I really want to be a source of information for single parents.  When I started, there was nothing out there like this blog....nothing.  Things were confusing for me.  And if I can help easing some of that confusion, I want to help other single parents to do so!

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